OX: The question
SOUP: The answer

Peanuts and parsley lend this bowl of hot oxtail soup unique flavors along with a side dish of grated fresh ginger.
Photo by Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin

Cast your vote for your
favorite oxtail soup recipe

By Catherine Kekoa Enomoto

Italians simmer oxtails with pepperoncini and red wine.

Jamaicans cook oxtails with lima beans and jalapeno chiles.

Hawaii cookbook author June Tong buys only fresh island oxtails for her classic Chinese soup.

"I eat it because I like it," Tong said of her hearty oxtail potage with carrots, turnips and gai choy, or mustard cabbage. "I make it often enough because I like the taste of oxtail with green onions and grated ginger. And, I love the taste of parsley (in it)."

And now, there's an Internet debate raging about who makes the most savory bowl of oxtail soup. Marguerite Van Ness 'Netted her preference for Columbia Inn oxtail soup: "I know it's one of their specialties. So ono," she wrote.

Nathan Yuen of Ewa Beach responded via 'Net: "You know what I like even better? The oxtail soup at Sada's! Ho da ono!"

Wing C. Ng cyber-countered: "I like (Kam) Bowling Alley better."

Then, all the way from New Mexico came Michael Yamasaki's 'Net note: "I agree with you. Kam Bowl is better, but have any tried the oxtail soup at the River Street Restaurant? (I don't know if it is still in business.)"

Thus, the Star-Bulletin launches The Great Ox Election. Stand up and be counted. Exercise your constitutional right to vote. Elect the best oxtail soup in Hawaii!

The bone in contention is a flavorful cut of meat originally from oxen but today generally from beef or veal. Sharon Herbst's "Food Lover's Companion" (Barron's Educational Series, 1990, $10.95) states that oxtail is quite bony and can be extremely tough, depending on the animal's age.

"Oxtail requires long, slow braising," according to Herbst. "It's often used for stews or soups, such as the hearty English classic oxtail soup, which includes vegetables, barley and herbs and is often flavored with sherry or Madeira."

The definitive "Larousse Gastronomique" describes Grand Hochepot, or Consomme Queue de Boeuf a la Francaise - French oxtail soup. The recipe calls for four pounds of oxtail and a pound of veal knuckles to be simmered in 12 cups of liquid for five hours. Then, clarify and strain the broth and return the oxtails along with 13 ounces of lean beef or veal, and carrot and turnip balls or slices.

A local version calls for oxtails, raw peanuts, fresh ginger, star anise and optional flavorings of soy sauce, oyster sauce and a pinch of sugar.

Kahala Mandarin Oriental executive chef Oliver Altherr prepared an upscale takeoff for a recent $125 per person Chaine des Rotisseurs dinner - stuffed veal tail with mochi rice balls sitting in a broth delicately spiced with star anise. Altherr stuffed the deboned tails with water chestnuts, carrots, coriander and wasabi.

"Perhaps the interesting thing is there was no more veal tail in Hawaii, so we brought veal tail here for the first time from the mainland," said Altherr, who is from Backnang, Germany, and worked previously at the Regent Hotel Hong Kong and for Michelin three-star chef Michel Guerad in Eugene les Bains, France.

The Internet, in fact, carries 275 oxtail entries, including Italian Coda Alla Vaccinara (stewed oxtail with celery), Jamaican oxtail and lima bean stew, and Korean oxtail soup.

Following is a recipe from Tong, whose Chinese bicentennial in Hawaii cookbook, "Popo's Kitchen," sold 40,000 copies. She said Chinese red dates and raw peanuts enhance protein-rich oxtail soup's healing nourishment as a post-illness or surgery meal: "The soup helps to invigorate and eliminates the feeling of dizziness, chillness or weakness. That's what my mom used to say."

So, cast your ballot in The Great Ox Election. Let us eat oxtail soup. It's our patriotic duty.

Oxtail Soup

1/4 cup sherry, whiskey or other preferred liquor

1 bunch fresh Chinese parsley

8 (2-inch) slices gai-choy ribs (Chinese mustard cabbage)

Soup-stock ingredients:

1 piece gow pee (Chinese dried tangerine peel)

1 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns (optional), available in supermarkets and Asian markets

3 pounds oxtails (available fresh at Kekaulike Street markets)

1/2 pound raw peanuts, available in Chinatown markets

2 carrots, chopped into chunks

1 large fresh turnip, chopped into chunks

1 (3-inch) piece fresh ginger, sliced

4 Chinese dried dates, available in Chinatown markets

2 whole star anise

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

Dipping-sauce ingredients, to taste:

Grated fresh ginger

Minced green onions

Minced Chinese parsley

Soy sauce

Soak gow pee in warm water 10 minutes; drain and remove white membrane. If using them, place Szechuan peppercorns in a cheesecloth bag.

In a large pot, parboil oxtails for 30 minutes; then rinse oxtails in fresh water and drain. Return oxtails to the pot with 10 to 12 cups fresh water and remaining soup-stock ingredients (water should reach 2 inches above ingredients). Bring to a boil and simmer for 2 hours.

Remove pot from heat and add liquor and bunch of Chinese parsley. Just before serving, blanch gai choy in boiling water, then use as a garnish. Serve soup with steamed rice on the side and individual small bowls of dipping sauce. Makes 4 servings.

Nutritional analysis: Unavailable because of different grades of oxtail and other variables.

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